(Dr. Javid Iqbal, 65, was born in Srinagar. He attended the D.A.V. School, Srinagar, and graduated in Medicine from the Government Medical College (GMC). His professional service in medicine includes work in the Middle East for three decades. During his days at the GMC, he captained the cricket team. Dr. Iqbal is the Vice Principal, Controller and the head of department - Operation Theater Technology at Tahira Khanam's Paramedical Sciences Institute, Lawaypora, Srinagar. He enjoys writing and staying close to his children in far away lands.)
Agro-Industrial Growth: A Viable Option!
Agro-industry could be a viable alternative of industrial growth in a state that is habitually pleading paucity of raw material for industrial growth. And in a state where widening urban-rural population ratio is posing problems to planners, as more and more people are moving to cities to improve economic prospects. The trend could be reversed by improving rural economy, and relieve urban planners of strains,
they get subjected to, as their plans get upset by ever increasing urban population.
The economy of the entire subcontinent has been and continues to have an agrarian base. J&K State is no exception. Rural economy constitutes a fundamental economic aspect, concerned as it remains with feeding the population, maintaining livestock, dairy farms and the orchids to provide the variety in foodstuff, as well as make the state self sufficient in foodstuff. Yet as the overall population grows, agricultural space shrinks. With the growth of cities, the urban areas intrude into villages surrounding the cities. And residential colonies eat-up agricultural land, in a situation where more and more agricultural space is needed to feed the growing population. This is indeed a planner’s dilemma!
As the rural population shifts to urban areas, ghettoes come up in city suburbs, creating problems for urban planners. Fortunately in the summer capital of J&K state, such ghettoes are not a common sight. Nevertheless in some of the new residential colonies in Srinagar, many rural dwellers are settling in the city, though the factors are not wholly related to lacunas in agrarian economy. Some belong to service class, while some have business interests. Nevertheless there is a growing tendency to move to urban areas, with dwindling interest in agriculture. This may be due to official apathy in maintaining and developing further, the agro-economy.
Apart from paddy crops and orchids, with which the state is quite well acquainted, there is ample scope of developing horticulture, providing incentives for growth of dairy products. Horticultural growth as well as enhancing the dairy products could have a home grown primary element.
However the agricultural entrepreneurs need to be provided the latest techniques in dairy farming and horticultural up-keep. It is earnestly prayed that government may provide the needed incentives! Agro-industrial growth is closely linked to irrigation facilities. Short of it, to expect rural economy to grow could be a pipedream, merely a wishful thinking. In elucidating the subject, Comptroller and Auditor General of India survey record, though a year or two old could nevertheless be a guide to the predominant trend.
As per reports, it made out that the schemes had been executed in an unplanned manner and were completed after inordinate delay running up to six years of their envisaged completion date. J&K’s rural population continues to be around 75%, even with rural-urban population proportion shift. This accounts for 3/4th’s of the population being totally dependent on agriculture. This should have had the planners thinking out the ways and means of maximum utilisation of available resources.
The figures doled out in the report makes a depressing reading. J&K, it is reported spent Rs 314.11 Cr out of Rs 379.52 Cr yet could complete only 99 schemes out of total 380 irrigation schemes during 2004-09. Out of the total availability of Rs 379.52 Cr, the Irrigation and Flood Control department utilised Rs 314.11 Cr (83 percent) during this period i.e., 2004-09, resulting in accumulation of unspent balance of Rs 52.68 Cr (March 2009). It is hoped and prayed that in the recent past, figures might have shown an upward trend, though the gap between what is planned and what is achieved continues to evoke concern in J&K State. The irrigation potential created was below the targeted level and utilisation of the potential created was below par in most of the cases. Records of Irrigation divisions were test-checked in auditing in recent years. The lacunas found were multiple and on different counts, the performance stands poorly judged, mostly on counts of improper utilisation of funds provided.
These figures reveal that while as the resources were available, the needed effort for maximum utilisation was missing. The department reportedly took up 268 schemes for execution during this period where as 112 schemes were already under execution (April 2004). Out of 380 schemes (Major: 20; Minor: 360), 316 schemes were due for completion during 2004-09 from which only 99 schemes (Major: 3; Minor: 96) were completed during the review period with a time overrun of 1-4 years:
However out of 316 schemes due for completion during the review period, only nine schemes were completed in time. Ninety schemes were completed with a time overrun of one to six years. The remaining was incomplete as of March 2009.
Various alibis have been cited by the officials-non-finalization of tenders, delay in release of funds, sinking of National Highway etc. A divisional breakup shows that out of 135 schemes test checked in the audit report, 117 schemes (Jammu: 110; Kashmir: 7) were slated for completion during the review period, out of which only 39 schemes (Jammu: 35; Kashmir: 4) estimated to cost Rs 14.97 Cr were completed at a cost of Rs 14.95 Cr with time overrun of 1-4 years. The balance 78 schemes (Jammu: 75; Kashmir: 3) had not been completed as of March 2009. The evident lacuna and the lack of planning it is reported has been projected in the report of Comptroller and Auditor General of India.
Improper utilisation of funds could be attributed to malfunctioning, but late release of funds cannot be put at the door of those officials, who operate the system in the field. It is a lacuna in the secretarial work at the highest level. It has come to fore in the report that test-check revealed an average delays of about 12 to 379 days in release of funds by the state government to the chief engineers, while as for accelerating the pace of work, guidelines envisaged release of funds to the implementing agencies within 15 days from their receipt by the state government. Delayed release of funds not only resulted in non-utilisation of programme funds but also adversely affected the completion of targeted schemes.
As regards the utilisation of funds, state financial rules provide that expenditure should be incurred evenly throughout the year. On paper the rule makes sense, as it ensures proper spacing of work throughout the year. However test-check showed that expenditure incurred during the last quarter of the years 2004-09 ranged between 56 and 88 percent. Expenditure in March each year ranged between 37 and 79 percent. Financial rules provide that no work should be taken up for execution without technical and administrative approval. Audit scrutiny has revealed that schemes were taken up for execution without administrative approval and technical sanction. Contrary to financial rules, which envisage execution of works after ensuring reasonability of rates and economy by inviting tenders, it was seen that works were allotted on ‘approval bases’ without invitation of tenders.
The report is a long list of lacunas at various stages of working and should be an eyeopener. There is an urgent need for political scrutiny of administrative working. It is hoped and prayed that state government would address the shortfalls and provide remedial measures. Widening irrigation facilities would stimulate agro-economy and it may arrest the disturbing trends seen in urban/rural population ratio!